Speaking of Andrew Young and his personal accomplishments is difficult to relate to without involving a whole society and their struggles. It is also unkind to speak of the Civil Rights Movement and the heights it attained without illustrating the great dignity of Andrew Young. Many years of his life, has been dedicated to the movement; in a sense he has lived it. For many years his family was a state of mind rather than a physical being from his constant absence. He would crash with fatigue almost every night in strange motels across the bitter south after countless marches and demonstrations just to better the lives of millions of people he never met. Along with Andrews assemblage, the SCLC, left an impression that will never be forgotten. Many famous humanitarians had their roots in the SCLC; such as Jesse Jackson, the activist who fights for the poor (ranked the 47th most influential black American ever). Fannie Lou Hamer, who came up through her grass roots as a sharecropper, to become one of the strongest pushers of black votes, (she is ranked the 75th most influential black American). Ralph Abernathy, a very strong strategist and pastor for the SCLC, who became leader of the SCLC after his best friend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., was assassinated. Dr. King, the force behind the whole movement, is ranked the number 1 most influential black leader in America. Andrew Young was the Executive director of the SCLC and also was the down to earth man that reasoned some of the crazy ideas out of his peers (Mr. Young is ranked 65th among the most influential). The main focus of this book was the battles the SCLC fought across the nation, leaving a very vivid account of each movement. If you look at the general trend of the specific movements, the issues are all attacking different problems. Specifically, as the movements progressed, the SCLC issues deepened.
Before the successful social reform of the 1960s, there were obviously many deep troublesome issues concerning the treatment of blacks in the South. Generally, in the South, the black man who was supposedly a freedman after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation of January 1, 1883, was treated subhuman and had almost no rights. Racial injustice was accepted, even given a name, Jim Crow. These unwritten laws oppressed the black race from obtaining any sort of dream. Their basic rights set for them by our founding fathers; life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, were stripped from them. Martin Luther King made this famous by his quote from his speech I Have a Dream. He said that:
When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness… America has given the Negro people a bad check, which has come back insufficient funds.
The mindset of the South was separate but equal, which is totally unacceptable. For instance, in the transit system, the blacks were forced to the back of the bus, and the whites were given the front.If the white section overflowed, they would make a black man get out of his seat to let the white man sit; but if the colored section was crammed to the top, under no circumstance could they take a seat in even an empty white section. The examples of white tyranny are endless. Yes, along the way there were many blacks that fought back. For example, Marcus Mosiah Garvey devoted his life to the cause of correcting the injustices that blacks were subjected to. Leaders like Kwame Nkrumah, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King Jr., cite him as the inspiration for their work. Progress slowly was made but not without great effort by many black leaders. Not until the day the black men came back from fighting the Second World War was there a new look at black expectations and attitudes. Servicemen returned home with broader mental horizons, increased confidence, and greater self-esteem. They had fought and defeated the racist tyranny of the Axis; they were in no mood to readapt passively to the Souths humiliating caste system.
The social transformation was started by laymen that were sick and tired of being treated as second class citizens. The most famous of these people was Rosa Parks, the seamstress who wouldnt get up and give a white man her seat, then the bus driver got up and demanded her to give up her seat. She decided to be arrested rather than deal with the humiliation of giving in to the racist men. When the Negro community heard about this they united overnight. Forty thousand handbills were printed, sparking a citywide boycott of the transit system. The clergyman took the torch and led the revolt due to their economic independence. The young minister who led was Martin Luther King Jr. This whole boycott was pre SCLC, but I involve it due to the beginning of Dr. Kings career in racial equality. It is not right to depict Montgomery as the decisive, initiating event of the Civil Rights Movement. Such a view ignores the earlier Baton Rouge boycott, and the significant win by the NAACP in the Supreme Courts Brown vs. Board of Education. The subject of this movement was the tip of the iceberg of the problem. It was covering the most visible examples of oppression. This was telling the Negro to his face that they were second-rate. The people of this movement fought remarkably hard and were extremely determined. They finally won after almost a year of fighting. The Supreme Court declared that segregation of the transit system was unconstitutional. After the boycott, King recognized the need for a mass movement to capitalize on the successful Montgomery action. He set up the Southern Christian Leadership Conference to redeem the soul of America. This gave him a base of operation throughout the South, as well as a national platform from which to speak. The Negro race was now ready to fight a long hard battle, realizing that it is possible to win over their social oppressor.
After the SCLCs birth, they decided to place their headquarters in Atlanta. They hired a young executive clergyman from the National Council of churches to become part of their staff; his name was Andrew Young. These men and women in a short period of time would change the history of this country forever.It all started off in Albany, where a past colleague, Ella Baker, was leading a sit-in movement to desegregate the public facilities with the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). This was getting a little deeper into the white mans psyche compared to Montgomery, because the white man wasnt just going to have to share transportation with them, the Negro wanted to live among the white folk. Unfortunately, the movement was not successful, due to a demonstration getting out of hand. The court ordered an injunction, which stopped the marches. This was the end of Albany, but gave the SCLC new vision and determination to bring them into their next battle, Birmingham.
Birmingham, between 1957 and 1962 had seventeen black churches and homes bombed, including a member of SCLC, Fred Shuttlesworth. With a strongly racist government leader, Governor Wallace promised segregation now, tomorrow, and forever. If Birmingham could be victorious, the rest of the Southern cities would fall. It was repressed by an extremely fanatical police leader, Eugene Bull Conner. He would use high-pressure fire hoses and attack dogs to stop non-violent protests. This was, as King put it to subpoena the conscience of the nation. Telegrams started to flood the White House conveying outrage, and it became clear that the Kennedy Administration would have to confront civil rights issues more directly. The protests and boycotts led to negotiation and the government agreed to desegregation of lunch counters and other facilities, also promising to confront the issue of inequality in the hiring process. Birmingham led to the signing of the Civil Rights Bill of 64 ending segregation. Birmingham was the most memorable movement in the SCLCs history. Most of the country backed them up saying that segregation was wrong, (later loss of this support devastated the movement). In the minds of the protestors this would be the answer to their oppression, not realizing the depth of their trouble.
After the huge victory in Birmingham, the SCLC wanted to next focus their efforts on a voter rights bill. The SCLC was getting deeper and deeper into the southern white mans beliefs set forth on them by the Civil War and slavery. They werent asking to ride next to the white man, nor eat next to the white man, but to have equal power with the white man. This should already have been the truth, but sadly it wasnt. Blacks were discouraged from voting. For instance they would be deterred by slow service, odd courthouse hours, excessively difficult literacy tests, and, of course, the threat of violence. Selma would be the place to set their drive toward the right to vote. It provided everything that made a media event, which was needed to get national support. It had a segregationist mayor, a Klan affiliated police chief, and a very low percentage of blacks registered to vote. Of 30,000 people, slightly more than half were black, but only 350 blacks were registered. The SCLC started this campaign off of the high of Dr. King winning the Nobel Peace Prize, which was a victory for all of the Civil Rights Movement. The campaign was extremely brutal, starting on the evening of the 18th of February when a protest march headed for the jail in the town of Marion, when it was attacked by a mob of whites. The streetlights mysteriously shut off and violence commenced in the dark. A young black man, Jimmy Lee Jackson was beaten and shot and killed by state troopers as he tried to protect his grandfather and mother from a trooper attack on civil rights marches.
The violence was slowly getting worse, showing a greater desperate attempt for the white mans oligarchy to stay intact. It was ridiculous for the chauvinists to believe that violence would overcome the black fight, not knowing it was feeding the SCLC tactics of nonviolence. This tactic was when protestors used their passive physical presence to provoke violence from authorities and thus the sympathy of a national audience. This tactic was the key to almost every victory of the Civil Rights Movement. The brutality continued when a march from Selma to Montgomery met up with 60 state troopers along with some civilians. The troopers asked them to stop, once, then attacked with teargas, clubs, whips and electric cattle prods. These violent images inspired protests in Detroit, Chicago, Toronto, Newark, and other cities, and caught the attention of the White House. This proved the tactic of nonviolence was extremely successful in obtaining a national audience. Selma led to the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which President Johnson signed into law in August. The legislation prohibited the kind of tactics that had been used in Selma to hinder black voter registration, also giving the federal government more power to police local instances of abuse. Selma unfortunately marked the final stage of the Civil Rights Movement. It was a major gain obtained by nonviolent direct action.
After Selma, the SCLC changed their focus. Encouraged by Watts, a huge riot in L.A., over police brutality and poor living conditions, the SCLC turned their attention toward the northern cities. The cities were suffering from something far different then the SCLC had been fighting for earlier. This problem of poverty was brought on by a lack of decent jobs for blacks, due to racism, but not a particularly visible sign of racism. It was like a quagmire of poverty, extremely difficult for a person to work their way out of the ghetto. The SCLC lost national support, including the Johnson Administration, which would go no further with federal legislation. What they were now asking for was a redistribution of the nations wealth. To do this without giving up a lot of what the main populace personally had worked for is difficult to do without turning this into a socialist, or even communist government; which was obviously very unpopular, from the McCarthy hearings, and we were also fighting a war against it in the Far East. The movement lost a lot of backing due to this. The SNCC accused the SCLC that their strategies effectiveness decreased as racial violence increased. This attitude was embodied by Stokely Carmichaels new battle cry of Black Power. The SCLC refused to endorse the slogan, fearing it would alienate white sympathy. This fight wouldnt be concluded like the others with a signing of a bill or an agreement with business owners. It would take a long time to accomplish what they wanted. This fight was taken over by Rev. Jesse Jackson.
The issue that I believe finally broke the movement of the SCLC was Dr. King protesting the Vietnam War. He had spoken out against the war earlier, but as it had escalated, and was taking an increasingly disproportionate number of black lives, it appeared more and more a war of capitalists against peasants. Dr. King became bitterly vocal. Dr. King became a kind of Christian socialist from the influence of the war and the conditions of the cities, concerning himself with campaigns aimed at a redistribution of American wealth. SCLC was making enemies faster than ever before. Now it was not just the racist southerners, they were also stepping on the feet of the president, who was once a supporter, and also many northern white middle class, and Vietnam War supporters. I believe Dr. Kings biggest enemy though would have to be the FBI, who had been harassing and illegally wiretapping the SCLC throughout the movement and accusing them of communist affiliation. It all ended on the evening of April 4, 1968. After a pre-dinner organizational meeting, Dr. King stepped onto the balcony of his second floor motel room. A few moments later King was shot in the neck, killing him. This assassination not only killed Martin Luther King Jr., but also the strongest influence of social justice, the leader of the SCLC, and millions of peoples hope for justice. The alleged assassin, James Earl Ray, was apprehended a month later in Heathrow Airport in London. He confessed to the killing, but there is much speculation of a conspiracy. The FBI might have been involved in Kings death, (hence his biggest enemy). Kings death did not prevent further drive for civil rights, but the next drive to Washington D.C. was unsuccessful. A few months after this in Washington, Andrew Young resigned from the SCLC to make a bid for Congress, starting a whole new part of his life and dealing with racism from a different vantage point, ending his full time involvement in the fight to better his race.
The Civil Rights Movement was a huge leap forward for the betterment of all races. Countless people have sacrificed their lives for this fight. Forty lives have been tied to the movement from 1955, starting with the murderer of Rev. George Lee, and ending with Dr. King in 1968. There is most likely many more. These numbers do not include the thousands of people of all colors beaten down for their beliefs in social equality. These numbers also do not include the millions of black people impoverished for generations to come from the lack of opportunity for them now. There is a long way to go to stop our biased society and unite all races, and to improve as one, not as classes, nor races.
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